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Standard On A Budget: The 20-Dollar Challenge

Updated on December 10, 2013

As my myriad of commons on Magic: The Gathering Online can attest to, as well as my boxes of common cards in real life, I do indeed pretty much only play Pauper. However, that doesn't mean that I am not very much interested in other formats, or that I don't keep up on the news surrounding them either. I've also only played a handful of Commander/EDH games and yet I still voraciously read up on all the new decks WotC puts out for the format. What this means for me is that I'm pretty knowledgeable in every format, especially Standard, since that is the one you will most likely hear people talking about.

This is the only card with 'poor' in its name.
This is the only card with 'poor' in its name.

Another neat thing about being a Pauper player is that I view cards from a different standpoint. I intentionally look for cheap alternatives and ways to win that won't break the bank. Therefore, in this series of articles I'm going to focus on making tournament-worthy decks that cost under 20 dollars. I'm not saying you'll win against LSV or Kibler, but at your local FNM you should be able to do just fine. I know that 20 dollars is a rather low number, especially when the current winning Standard decks cost about 10 times that amount. But I was just tired of seeing so-called 'budget' decks that cost upwards to 100 dollars. The way I figure, if you're going to buy inferior cards, they better cost a whole lot less than the other cards. Otherwise, you're really just buying bad cards that you won't be able to trade away.

The current Standard meta is almost exclusively dominated by fast decks that are creature-centric, such as mono-blue Master of Waves, mono-black devotion (ie. Grey Merchant of Asphodel), Boros, RDW, and mono-red devotion. Which isn't to say there aren't other builds that are more control-oriented, but to destroy the meta we have to be counter-meta which means playing a deck that generally will win against aggro/creature decks. Therefore, what we want is a severely controlling deck that clamps down on creatures. This is generally going to be a U/W build so that's where we'll go first to find our cards. Don't worry though, as I remember what I said about BUDGET, so we won't be using any Sphinx's Revelations (currently 25 dollars each), nor Supreme Verdicts (sitting at 6 dollars). Besides, I think if all we did was taking a winning U/W deck and removed all the expensive cards the only thing we'd have left is a sub-par control deck. And what we want is a brand-new deck that is on par with more expensive decks.

U/W Cards In Standard Worth Using

Whenever I begin a new deck, the first thing I like to do is go through all the cards in my color or colors that work within the theme of the deck. Therefore, I'm going to pull out all the Standard U/W cards that look viable and write about them. This is the part that takes the longest because there are 330 cards to choose from. Thankfully, most of them are like Aerial Maneuverand can be dismissed out of hand immediately. Something else that helps is to ignore anything that cost over 5 mana since, especially in these colors, getting them out is not going to be easy or even assured

Right now I'm just skimming all the cards, looking for ones that either I can build a deck around, or ones that are undercosted, or merely have great utility and can be used in any deck I decide on. I'm noticing a lot of well-costed White creatures too, so my next article might have to focus on a White Weenie Pauper Standard deck!


I know this card is more than a little underwhelming at first glance. But consider that there aren't any threats that are above 5 attack power in the current meta and this becomes a Pacifism that you can throw on an early creature without feeling bad about holding out for a bigger threat later.

Banisher Priest.

Obviously a 2/2 with a Journey to Nowhere stapled onto it for 3-mana is playable. Still, the fact that the removal is contingent upon your opponent's removal, it isn't a card I personally want to depend upon too heavily for my own removal. Was that as confusing as I think it was?

Celestial Flare.

I love this because there's very little that can get around it and it's instant removal, which easily can disrupt your opponent's plans. Just make sure to remember that it's your opponent's choice! I've made that mistake before and definitely regretted it.


There's nothing wrong with a card that isn't flashy but just does what needs to be done. It costs a little more than I'd like to spend, but in the absence of other removal it is a welcome addition.

Deputy of Acquittals.

Wait, so you're telling me I get a 2/2 for 2-mana PLUS it has flash PLUS I can save my own guy from removal? I'll happily be putting these to good use as both an aggro card and as a bouncing counterspell. Also, make sure to remember that this creature has a 'may' clause so you don't have to bounce a creature if you don't have a good target.

Detention Sphere.

I'm almost iffy about including this since it's definitely going to take a chunk out of our 20 dollar limit. However, since when has an O-Ring not been worth playing? And this one is also good at punishing aggro decks or decks that overextend themselves.


I didn't include Cancel on this list so that I might include Dissolve, which is obviously strictly better. Still, being strictly better than a marginal card may not be enough to find its way into an actual deck.

Essence Scatter.

I definitely have a distaste for counterspells, opting instead for cards like Pacifism that can be used even if I accidentally let a creature slip by or don't have the mana available. Still, in an aggressive format this is usually as good or better than Aura-removal.

Nimbus Naiad.

This card has always been my all-star in Limited as a decently-costed flyer that can turn into an Aura if you have extra mana--and blue always has extra mana. I already know the Nimbus will be my main win condition in this deck. An unassuming Yoked Ox bestowed upon by a Nimbus Naiad can become quite the 2/6 flying threat. I know that sounds hard to believe, but let's see how this deck shapes up before you doubt me!


Nothing really needs to be said about a card that's been around since 6th Edition and still plays nicely 15 year later. It's 2-mana usually-permanent creature removal and is welcome in this deck alongside Runner's Bane.

Runner's Bane.

I know it's usually going to just be a worse version of Pacifism. But I don't think that's going to be much of an issue when Pacifism is already a very good card. I may change my mind later on if I find it's not pulling its weight.

Soul Tithe.

So it's not quite removal but it hits everything. There are decks where this will be an all-star and others where your opponent will just shrug it off and keep swinging away. I'm not entirely sold on it but I like it.

Wall of Frost.

It's expensive for just a wall. But considering there's just about nothing that can punch through it, you've got yourself an impregnable wall that will constantly be a nuisance to your opponent. I'm not sure if being a nuisance is enough to be included, but it just might if it can slow your opponent down enough.

Yoked Ox.

I know it's just a 0/4. But it's a 1-drop that may slow your opponent down long enough for you to set up your own win condition. I'd say there aren't many better 1-drops available.

U/W Deck (In Progress)

4 Deputy of Acquittals
4 Essence Scatter
4 Nimbus Naiad
4 Wall of Frost
4 Yoked Ox
4 Agoraphobia
4 Detention Sphere
4 Pacifism
4 Runner's Bane
16 Islands
08 Plains
60 Cards

Another Cliffhanger

I know that cliffhangers are never fun. But this article has reached its word length and I still have a lot more to write about it. Stay tuned for my next article where I actually take this new deck and battle it against three of the top decks currently in Standard. Will our maverick 20-dollar deck hold its ground against the seemingly insurmountable odds of the largest wallets and bank rolls in Magic? Or will our new deck fold and crumble in the face of obviously more well-designed and more expensive decks? It's a modern day David vs. Goliath and you'll have front row tickets!


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